By BRIAN ABATE, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Washington’s NFL team recently made a big move in free agency, signing safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million contract.
Collins, 25, had already made the Pro Bowl three times and was a member of the AP All-Pro team in 2016, all with the New York Giants, a division rival.
“That organization is awesome,” Collins said in an interview with NFL Network about his former team. “Honestly I love them. I respect them, they gave me my first opportunity to play in the NFL, they took a chance on my and hopefully they love the four years I gave them.
“At the same time,” he added, “I don’t know what the future holds with the New York Giants but I’m glad it happened because now I’m in that burgundy and gold.”
The Giants decided not to give Collins a big contract, but ownership was still disappointed to lose him.
“That hurt me greatly,” John Mara, the president and co-owner of the Giants, said at the 2019 NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix. “I liked Landon a lot, and I had a great deal of respect for him. He played hard week in and week out.”
The Washington franchise hopes Collins can be among the off-season upgrades that will get the struggling team back into the playoffs.
Collins has been widely regarded in football, going back to his high school days. He was a 5-star recruit going into college after starring in football and as a sprinter at Dutchtown High School in Louisiana.
After high school, he made the decision to attend the University of Alabama over Louisiana State University live on ESPN – to the dismay of his mother, who sat next to him, shook her head and said she still supported LSU.
Collins backed that decision up by helping Alabama win the national title his freshman season.
After three seasons at Alabama, Collins declared for the NFL draft and was selected by the Giants with the first pick of the second round.
Analyst Lance Zierlein called Collins a “wrap-up tackler. Physical enough to match up against tight ends and has the feet to carry big, slot targets,” but went on to criticize Collins’ ability to cover receivers and tight ends. Those continue to be the biggest knocks on Collins.
Despite his success in the NFL, he still has had issues in coverage.
He switched from his natural position – strong safety – to free safety during his rookie season due to injuries suffered by other defensive backs. Collins struggled in coverage at free safety but did have an interception and more than 100 tackles.
Collins moved back to strong safety in 2016 and broke out with five interceptions and four sacks. He also played well in the Giants’ playoff loss that season, coming up with a sack and six tackles.
The Giants failed to make the playoffs over the past two seasons and Collins missed five games due to a broken forearm in 2017 and a torn rotator cuff in 2018.
Despite the injuries, he made the Pro Bowl both seasons. He is not expected to miss any time next season because of the rotator cuff injury.
One thing Collins will change with his new team is his jersey number. With the Giants, Collins wore 21 to honor Sean Taylor, a star free safety for Washington, who was tragically killed at 24 during a 2007 home invasion.
Now that he’s going to play for Washington, Collins will wear number 20 instead.
“It’s a place I’ve always dreamed of being at because of my favorite player,” Collins said at his introductory press conference on March 14.
Collins was given a game-worn Taylor jersey by Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
“I instantly broke down,” Collins said. “Instantly broke down into tears.”
Washington coach Jay Gruden said that, aside from the feel-good part of Collins joining the team, he expects a lot of the veteran.
“We expect unbelievable things from him because he’s the highest- paid safety in the NFL, so he better be the best one,” Gruden said at the 2019 NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix.
Collins didn’t back down from the expectations and said he was excited to join linebacker Ryan Anderson and defensive end Jonathan Allen, who Collins played with at Alabama.
“We know how each other plays and how we get after it,” Collins said. “We know what it takes to win, and all we want to do is win.”